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Our Best Bites of 2014

Daniel, I'm sorry for your loss. Thank you for sharing a glimpse of that memory with us. I'm teary-eyed at my desk, thinking of you sharing a lobster dinner with your mother, and of me frying bacon after midnight for my father's last BLT. There's so much to miss, and so much to be grateful for.

Win a Copy of 'Baked Occasions'

Eclairs. Or flourless chocolate cake. Or orange cake with orange syrup and bittersweet chocolate ganache.

… I come up with lots of excuses to call things "special occasions," is what I'm sayin', I guess.

Win a Copy of 'Downtown Italian'

I don't often have fettucini alfredo because it's so simple to make at home that I never bother ordering it, and it's so rich that making it at home is a little shocking. But I do adore it. I should make it sometime soon.

Win a Copy of 'Marcus Off Duty'

Tapas: some pickled or seasoned vegetables, fried potatoes and romesco sauce, toasted or fried nuts, cheeses. OR, depending on the crowd, the mood, and the weather, maybe grilled cheese sandwiches and soup, or omelettes.

Win a Copy of 'Baked Occasions'

Flourless chocolate cake. Or meringues with creme anglais and macerated strawberries. Or eclairs. Or orange-almond cake with orange syrup and ganache. Or…

… apparently, I have too many special occasions.

Win a Copy of 'Heritage'

Hush puppies, for sure. I hadn't had hush puppies for yeeeears after moving to New England, until one day this summer it occurred to me that I could just make them. (I know, I know.) They were spectacularly good.

Win a Copy of 'Ovenly'

Chocolate-covered pretzels, or salted chocolate chip cookies. It's a toss-up.

Win a Copy of 'Plenty More'

Avocado fries with romesco sauce for dipping.

Win a Copy of 'Eat: The Little Book of Fast Food'

Nothing's faster than an omelet, filled with whatever leftover seems appropriate—or just a bit of cheese.

Win a Copy of 'A Boat, a Whale, & a Walrus'

We have a tiny apartment and a ton of friends, so I almost always serve finger foods with small plates—but I like to make sure the foods are filling and wholesome, especially if we're serving cocktails. Drinkers need some ballast.

So one of my favorite dishes is an assortment of savory galettes: I can make the dough and filling ahead, shape the galettes at my leisure and freeze them, then bake them at the last minute with no hassle.

Win a Copy of 'Jamie Oliver's Comfort Food'

Awww, there are so many! Mac and cheese is a reliable standby. So is cream of tomato soup with a grilled cheese sandwich, or breakfast-for-dinner. But lately I've rediscovered how much I love cinnamon toast. So simple, so comforting.

Win a Copy of 'Tacolicious'

I make a super-simple pulled pork taco filling that is really just faux carnitas; for vegetarian tacos, black beans are my household staple.

Win a Copy of 'The Big-Flavor Grill'

I cook so little meat that I like to keep it super-simple: salt and fire, maybe a drizzle of an herb-and-oil blend or citrus wedges once it's off the grill. But I do like to grill mushrooms after letting them soak up balsamic-rosemary marinade and to brush brandy and butter onto Vidalia onions before putting them on the grill. Those are some big flavors, all right.

Win a Copy of 'Seriously Delish'

That pain-in-the-neck Cook's Illustrated recipe for pumpkin pie that is the only pumpkin pie I've ever loved.

Win a Copy of 'Fried & True'

Gosh, I haven't fried chicken since I was a kid (and as far as I know, my mother never fried chicken). Nowadays, I think I'd try a buttermilk soak and a simple seasoned flour dredge.

Win a Copy of 'The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook'

I suspect some of our nieces and nephews will serve our version of Deborah Madison's roasted squash galette with caramelized onions and garlic at their own Thanksgiving dinners a generation from now.

Win a Copy of 'Paris Pastry Club'

I notice guests tend to ooooh over eclairs, and I do too when someone makes them for me! All the elements are simple — puff pastry, creme patissiere, chocolate glaze — but done right, the combination is exquisite. They're a delicious combination of old-fashioned and elegant, and I love serving them.

By the same token, I love serving meringues with macerated berries and cream (or, sometimes, a rich custard made with the leftover yolks). So simple, so bright and fresh, and old-fashioned enough to be unexpected.

Win a Copy of 'Buvette: The Pleasure of Good Food'

Are escargots categorized as bistro fare? I love traditional escargots, and they're surprisingly hard to find in my area. I need an old-school recipe and a source for the snails, I guess.

Win a Copy of 'Mother Daughter Dishes: Reinventing Loved Classics'

I always think of my father when I make cheesecake. Every year for his birthday or Christmas, I would make him a plain, rich New York cheesecake, and every year he greeted it as if it were his favorite present.

Win a Copy of 'Pitt Cue Co.: The Cookbook'

No matter what I grill, I always grill some sort of bread: flatbread cooked completely on the grill, a split baguette brushed with herb oil, pita with garlic butter. The smoky intensity of grilled bread is intoxicating.

Giveaway: Win a Super-Fast Thermapen Thermometer

Bread, almost certainly, and I think I'd go for the color blue.

Win a Copy of 'Vibrant Food'

In its whole, raw state, the artichoke. Sliced or peeled or cooked, beets.

Win a Copy of 'Fruitful: Four Seasons of Fresh Fruit Recipes'

My favorite is strawberries, fresh little local strawberries. My most used is blueberries, the tiny little Maine blueberries I buy at the farmers' market and freeze to eat all winter long.

Cook the Book: 'The Nourished Kitchen' by Jennifer McGruther

Homebaked bread, homemade pie crust, and homemade tortillas. They're all so simple and so much more than the sum of their parts. The storebought counterparts are perfectly fine as vehicles for something else, but the fresh-made homemade versions are something special on their own.